A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 1) — Piper’s teaching tactics and view of God

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  Gal 4:6-7  

In this series of posts we intend to show you the erroneous and harmful theology of John Piper. The Persistent Widow has already written a separate series (Jan 9th, Jan 22nd) on this same topic focusing primarily upon Piper’s notions about the unpardonable sin and marriage/divorce/remarriage. But we want to continue to bring this matter to your attention. Why? Because John Piper has had a huge influence on Christians and pastors and theologians, and that influence has not been entirely good. In fact, the majority of it has not been good.

In our opinion, the very roots of Piper’s theology (Desiring God, Christian Hedonism) set him off on an inevitable course of preaching a false gospel of works righteousness. This theme is like a bad thread that permeates Piper’s teaching. It is evidenced in his unorthodox notions about our justification not being complete until a future day of judgment when Christ will examine our works. These works are “necessary for salvation” in Piper’s teaching, as will be demonstrated in Part Three of this series.

You probably all know that John Piper very forcefully teaches that divorce is NEVER permissible before God. He says there is to be no divorce for any reason. He insists that divorced people cannot remarry as long as their ex-spouse is alive. And Piper is not ashamed to lay this horrific burden on suffering people. Through the course of this series of articles, we hope to show you that Piper’s “permanence view” of marriage is simply a bad fruit that has grown from the vine of his bad theology. There are numbers of other bad fruits on that vine as well, and we believe that Christians and pastors have been picking and eating this fruit way too long. If you are a Piper fan, we hope that we can convince you that the fruit you have been consuming has worms in it.

This post, Part One in a series by Jeff Crippen, is like a preliminary dish in a meal of several courses, or a ‘setting the scene’ chapter in a book.

A common tactic in Piper’s teaching 

A preemptive strike to create wriggle room for false doctrine; getting readers to doubt their own reasoning

Let’s use a black cow and a white cow to illustrate a very common tactic in Piper’s teaching and writing. Yes, here in our town the cows are mostly black and white – Holsteins you know. But for our purposes here, we’ve got two cows. One is black. One is white. Now, what John Piper often does before he sets out some strange doctrine, is what we might call a theological “preemptive strike.” It goes something like this:

  • The cow is white. The cow that I (Piper) am going to be telling you about is most definitely white.
  • You may think that I am going to say that the cow is black.
  • But remember, I have told you in advance, the cow is white.

There’s the preemptive strike. Now he sets out teaching:

  • The cow is very, very dark in color. In fact, it is so dark that you almost can’t even see it at night. If you were to put this cow up against a black background, it would virtually disappear.
  • The whiteness of this cow, you see, is much like the night.

Huh? But Mr. Piper, you just said in the previous chapter that the cow is white. It sure sounds a whole lot like now you are saying the cow is black.  “Oh no,” Piper responds (or more likely, his fans respond) “you just don’t understand what I am saying. The cow is white.”

See what I mean by “preemptive strike”? Piper tries to cover your objection, which he knows full well that his wording is going to bring about, by telling you in advance that what his words sound like to you, are not what he means at all. He works in this way to make you doubt your own ability to evaluate, and thus builds into you a distrust for your own senses and reasoning abilities. We all here at ACFJ have heard that one before!

A little taste of Piper’s view of God

Let me give you an example of Piper’s view of God which is closely connected with his teaching that we are justified by our works. “WHAT? WAIT! HOLD ON!” someone says. “John Piper does not believe or teach that we are justified by our works!” Well, how do you know that, I ask? “Because he has said so in other places. He even wrote a book on the imputed righteousness of Christ.” But you see, that was his preemptive strike. We will show you his other statements about the necessary role of works in our justification.  But to the example. This one comes from his book What Jesus Demands from the World. In this book, Piper regularly confounds Law and Gospel. Who is he speaking to in the following quote? To us. To everyone. To Christians and to the unsaved:

What then is left to fear? The answer is unbelief. For those who follow Jesus, fearing God means fearing the terrible prospect of not trusting the one who paid such a price for our peace. In other words, one of the means that God uses to keep us peacefully trusting in Jesus is the fear of what God would do to us if we did not believe. The reason we do not live in the discomfort of constant fear is because we believe. That is, we rest in the all-sufficient work of Jesus and in our Father’s sovereign care. But at those moments when unbelief tempts us, a holy fear rises and warns us what a foolish thing it would be to distrust the one who loved us and gave his Son to die for our anxiety-free joy.

One illustration has helped me see how this experience works. When my oldest son Karsten was about eight years old, we went to visit a man who owned a huge dog. When we opened the door, the dog looked at my son almost eye to eye. That’s a fearful prospect for a little boy. But we were assured the dog was harmless and that he really liked children. After a while we sent Karsten to the car to get some thing we forgot. As he ran across the yard, the dog gave a deep growl and loped up behind him. The owner leaned out of the door and called to Karsten, “You better just walk; he doesn’t like it when people run away from him.” A huge dog that loves children but does not like people to run away from him is what God is like. If we will trust him and enjoy him and throw our arms around his strong neck, he will be everything we ever hoped for in a friend. But if we decide that there are other things we want more than him and turn to run away, he will get very angry. Jesus said this as clearly as we could wish in Luke 19:27, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” Fearing God means fearing the terrible prospect of running away from the merciful, all-providing, all-satisfying reign of King Jesus.

John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, Crossway, 2006, pp. 96-7. (Kindle Edition: Good News Publishers; Kindle Locations 1454-1469) 

So, the Christian is to be afraid of God, seeing God as a loving Father who could flip out at any moment if our faith is not up to par and throw us into hell. These quotes, by the way, appear in chapter 11 which is entitled, “Demand #11 FEAR HIM WHO CAN DESTROY BOTH SOUL AND BODY IN HELL”.

According to Piper, “if we decide that there are other things we want more than him and turn to run away,” God will  get very angry with us and slaughter us. And make no mistake, ‘us’ here includes born again Christians: those who have been given the right to become children of God. Piper has already made it clear at the very start of the book that these ‘Demands’ Jesus makes apply to everyone, to believers and to unbelievers alike, because all people are commanded to repent and believe in Christ. So Piper has taken Luke 19:27, a verse about the enemies of God, conjoined it to a little illustration about a dog and a boy, and applied it to believers to instill legalistic fear in them.

In contrast, listen to the Word of God:

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Gal 4:6-7 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Rom 8:15-16 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

So there is just a bit of an introduction to Piperism. John Piper, much like a true Roman Catholic, is striving and striving to be good enough to be accepted by God. In the end, Piper’s “Desiring God” means, “don’t mess up,” and his “Future Grace” really means, “Future Judgment.”

(Go to Part 2 of this series)

***

For further reading

The book Not Under Bondage is packed with scriptural arguments for why the Bible gives three grounds for divorce: abuse, adultery and desertion.

Online articles that give scriptural reasons why Piper’s divorce doctrine is wrong:

The Bible DOES allow divorce for domestic abuse

God hates divorce? Not always.

Remarriage after divorcing an abuser — in a nutshell 

Abusive Marriages Portray God’s Covenant With His People? – Really?

How Diligent, Detailed Bible Study Can Sometimes Lead to Madness

John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 2) — He Misuses the Law of God

John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 5) — Working Your Way Through the Gate

John Piper’s Erroneous Teaching on the Unpardonable Sin

The compulsory pursuit of joy in Christian Hedonism = compounded mind control for victims of abuse

John Piper: Love your neighbour as yourself

Whitewashed Tombs

How John Piper’s theology allows domestic violence

A open letter to John Piper about his view on divorce

One Star Review of Piper’s book “This Momentary Marriage”

Good men: please denounce the Permanence View of Marriage that denies any reason for divorce.

John Piper’s “Clarifying Words on Wife Abuse” – are they helpful?

Two posts which show how Piper’s doctrine has had horrific effects on victims of domestic abuse:

A open letter to John Piper about his view on divorce

Open letter of thanks to Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts

33 Comments

  1. “In other words, one of the means that God uses to keep us peacefully trusting in Jesus is the fear of what God would do to us if we did not believe. ”

    This stood out to me. The God I know never ever uses fear to get anyone to do anything. Yes there are stated consequences to our actions, yes there are warnings, but God does not give us fear! “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”

    I don’t know Piper’s God. I don’t want to know that God. I much prefer the One I read about in Scripture — the One that is Love in person.

    • Jeff Crippen

      xerarose – I think we could say that God uses fear toward His enemies. They are to fear Him who can cast body and soul into hell. God’s Law in the Old Covenant was given in part to show sinners the perilous condition they are in as enemies of this God who is a consuming fire. But the Lord does not relate to His children in that manner. And this is where Piper is soooo wrong. For some underlying reason, out of some basic flaw in Piper’s theology, he classes all human beings into one homogenous group and lays Christ’s “demands” on them all. So God becomes this “father” who loves us when we are good, but we must always beware lest we awaken the dragon in him and be consumed. For the Christian, all such fear is gone.

    • Jeff Crippen

      I saw this headline today in the news. Maybe this is how Piper would have Christians view God?

      My dog savaged me three times but I won’t let them put him down: Owner who needed emergency surgery and 60 stitches after attacks insists they were her fault

  2. That story about the dog makes me shudder. What a view of God 😦

    Since we’re talking animals, could you imagine Aslan pictured this way? If one of the children turned away, that he pounced and devoured the child?

    • IamMyBeloved's

      Good point, Jeff S. That actually made me shudder. The picture of Aslan devouring the children. This poor theology of Piper’s shows how we can take God and make him into whatever our “glasses of life” allow us to see Him as.

    • joepote01

      Oh,good analogy, Jeff S.! And what did Aslan do when Edmund betrayed him? He gave his life to redeem Edmund.

      A much, much better picture of God’s love for us!

  3. “John Piper does not believe or teach that we are justified by our works!”

    Actually, this is technically true. Piper denies the agent of justification is works and so we are not justified by works. He says our final justification is according to works.

    But this is irrelevant, IMO, because he still gets the correlation backwards in saying works are necessary for a final justification which is contingent (his word) upon them and our justification is according to said works. Had he said instead that works, that is acceptable works before God, are according to fully completed and already fully imputed justification he would be on solid ground because then works would be the result of having been fully and completely justified already. This is what was agreed upon in the Confessions which say that works follow justification. Even the Anglican Confession which Piper calls “refreshingly straightforward and clear” clearly says works follow justification.

    But Piper does it backwards saying that (final) justification is contingent upon works and so works are necessary for final justification.

    What Piper denies is that justification is by or based on works. He says it is according to works.

    Meh.

  4. Jim

    First of all- I like Jesus. Jesus is really cool.

    Second, all this is pretty depressing and disturbing. I was watching a long video of Mark Driscoll once (a preacher I generally like) and I was thinking, “Other than having five kids, this guy sounds just like the Catholic priests I grew up listening to.”

    I think Bible interpretation tends to follow the path of literary criticism- taking a text and using it as a jumping off point for various intellectual musings. This is a harmless hobby when applied to poems and novels, but extremely dangerous when applied to the Bible. The Bible is *not* a text. It is not a device from which to launch your thoughts about things. It says what it says, and that’s it.

    The unforgivable sin- is obviously accusing Jesus of sorcery, which isn’t unforgivable because it’s against Jesus, but only because it’s against the Holy Spirit. There are no other unforgivable sins, period, because Jesus said there weren’t.

    I don’t know if the Bible needs to be interpreted at all. Taught, maybe, but not interpreted. Mostly just read. But if both Piper and various Catholics can produce such gross and obvious intellectual errors from a few simple direct statements, theology is pretty pointless.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Jim – Thank you. You are right. Toying with literature is one thing. Toying with God’s Word is quite another.

      Well, yes, the Bible does need to be interpreted, just like all written communication does. You can’t teach it without interpreting it. And really you can’t read something without interpreting it either. Perhaps what you mean by “interpret” is “come to absolute conclusion on the meaning in all cases”? The Bible actually is quite clear on many things – on the important things. We are made righteous before God by faith alone in Christ alone, apart from our own doings and workings and so-called self-made righteousness. Christ died on the cross to take the curse for our sin. Christ perfectly obeyed God’s Law for us, just as the first Adam broke it for us. These are the things that Christians have agreed upon since the Bible was written. Yes, there have always been people who have come along and twisted and distorted Scripture for their own selfish ends – usually to control others and for their own self glory. Galatians warns us of this. The fact is that we have been far too long just carelessly accepting what Piper is saying, without carefully comparing him with the plain teaching of God’s Word. When we do so, it really isn’t that hard to see that he is off track.

      God’s Word is not pointless. Biblical theology is healthy. We must pursue it and not give up in despair in hearing what God has revealed to us, just because someone comes along with distortions of that Word.

  5. IamMyBeloved's

    Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

    I wonder how Piper would see his infraction of the law of God here. He wrongly uses God’s name, to substantiate his own theology. Would he say that his sentence for this sin would be unpardonable as well? He believes that anyone who has broken the law of God, by divorcing their evil abuser, has committed the unpardonable sin, why not this one too? Hmm. Oh wait! There is no law that says, “Thou shalt not divorce thyself from the evil one”. In fact, we may be breaking God’s law, by not divorcing ourselves from evil – even when it comes in the form of a spouse-

  6. The reason we do not live in the discomfort of constant fear is because we believe.

    …except you WILL live in “the discomfort of constant fear” if you listen to Piper and his Neo-Calvinist compatriots who teach similar things. How do you know if you believe “enough” for it to “count” as belief and not unbelief? If you get it wrong, you might accidentally walk away from God the vicious/loving Rottweiler, and then He’ll eat you. So you’d better make sure you get it right.

    This topic is very close to home for me, because I marinated in that “discomfort of constant fear” for 2-3 years in a PCA church that was obsessed with Piper/Neo-Calvinism. It’s (part of) what drove me back to the Lutheran church, because by the end I couldn’t even confidently say that God loved me and Jesus died for me. I never doubted either of those things growing up, until I discovered Neo-Calvinism. Throw bad presentations of limited atonement into this mix, let me tell you, it will REALLY mess with your head. (Thank you, BTW, Jeff S., for helping to jerk me out of that headspace, in that conversation we had about limited atonement in the TWW comments. That was a turning point after which I began to actually believe again that God loved me.) In fact I’d be interested to know if Piper, being (at least nominally) Calvinist, drags limited atonement into this at any point. It would be the perfect club with which to beat his audience over the head. Nothing keeps readers coming back for more, than desperate terror that they aren’t elect.

    Also, unbelief is a sin perfectly suited for this kind of fearmongering treatment because it’s just so nebulous. It’s not something solid and visible like theft, drunkenness, etc. People who want you to obsess over every vagary of your mind and emotions, every second of every day, lest you step out of line and make God mad/lose your salvation/whatever, always pick nebulous sins like this. It’s like the Botkin sisters on whether attraction and lust are the same thing. They won’t give you a straight answer, but they’ll spend all day telling teenage girls how they can commit “emotional adultery” against their future husbands, so they’d better “guard their hearts” (which in practice works out to never interacting with boys and/or self-flagellation over silly teenage crushes).

    This kind of teaching also comes with the added benefit of no one being able to call you on it, because it’s just so darn vague that no one knows what you meant in the first place. And if they do figure it out, you can always just redefine it because you left yourself plenty of wiggle room.

    • Yes.

      • “This kind of teaching also comes with the added benefit of no one being able to call you on it, because it’s just so darn vague that no one knows what you meant in the first place. And if they do figure it out, you can always just redefine it because you left yourself plenty of wiggle room.” Exactly like our exes. same mindset,same verbal games.

    • raswhiting

      RE: “Also, unbelief is a sin perfectly suited for this kind of fearmongering treatment because it’s just so nebulous. It’s not something solid and visible like theft, drunkenness, etc. People who want you to obsess over every vagary of your mind and emotions, every second of every day, lest you step out of line and make God mad/lose your salvation/whatever, always pick nebulous sins like this.”

      Yes, indeed. My wife and I experienced this type of abuse in out former church, with repeated, unsupported assertions of sins such as “bitterness in your heart” that were “obvious” to the accusing church leader and to his wife, but non-existent in our hearts and lives. They actually judged people and wanted to discipline them for such nebulous “sins”.

  7. joepote01

    Reading this series, I keep thinking of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, who led the children away into captivity. He was called ‘pied’ because of his multi-colored clothes.

    Piper seems to have a variety of ‘clothes’…presenting himself as a ‘reformed’ theologian while eschewing doctrines aligning closely with traditional Roman Catholic…claiming to preach grace while requiring strict adherance to legalistic rules and works…

    All with the end result of leading God’s children astray.

    Methinks John Piper is a Pied Piper…

    • You’re not the only one who thinks Piper is Pied, Joe. Leading people away — leading them into potential shipwreck of their faith — by different things out of each side of his mouth. I find Jeff C’s cow analogy very helpful. That’s what Piper does, repeatedly. Calling the teachings of Jesus “Demands” when that word is never once used of Jesus sayings in the Bible. . . it’s disgusting.

      The bible never uses the word “demands” in reference to Jesus’ teachings to his followers. In fact, in the ESV, the word ‘demands’ only occurs twice in the whole Bible:

      Colossians 2:14
      by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

      1 Thess 2:6
      Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

      And even the word ‘commands’ occurs only seven times in the NT (ESV), and of those occurrences, only two relate to Jesus making commands to people.

      Acts 17:30
      The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

      Acts 1:2
      until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

      The rest of the NT occurrences are about Jesus commanding evil spirits or wind or water. And one is about people who have turned away from the truth commanding others to believe or act in certain ways, which reminds me of Piper:

      Titus 1:14
      not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

      Piper does the white cow stuff by saying that he knows calling them *Demands* is confronting and radical, and he does lots of fancy footwork in pink prose to make out that *they are not unloving demands* because God gives us the ability to meet them. But every now and then from the other side of his mouth the black cow comes out and he says You gotta do these things or you’ll not end up in heaven. . . or you’ll lose some of your reward in heaven or . . . he’s not specific and the story changes like smoke, but the subtext is unmistakeable for those who are not already blindfolded: you gotta follow these demands. And you’re in sin if you’re not delighting in them. This is crazy making stuff.

      • I just found two more uses of ‘demand’ in the NT, by searching for ‘demanded’ or ‘demanding’.

        Luke 23:23
        But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed.

        Luke 22:31
        “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,”

        In both those instances it’s the ungodly making demands, not Jesus.

      • joepote01

        Interesting…so in biblical use, it seems “demands” tend to come from abusers, not from God…

        Thank you, Barbara, for pointing that out!

  8. Not Too late

    “If we will trust him and enjoy him and throw our arms around his strong neck, he will be everything we ever hoped for in a friend. But if we decide that there are other things we want more than him and turn to run away, he will get very angry.”

    Is John Piper talking about Jesus? Sounds more like the jealous, controlling, abusive spouse!

  9. Anonymous

    Doesn’t the fear of God refer to a deep, awesome, reverent respect of God? I have always told my kids that we are not meant to be in terror of God or be afraid of Him, because He is a loving Father. However, we are told to be governed by a fear of God that doesn’t include being scared but being in awe of His supremacy, holiness, power, knowledge and love.

    • I’m with you on that, Anonymous

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      Yes, that is what I have always thought! Psalm 34:4 “I sought the Lord, He answered me and freed me from ALL my fears”

  10. Carmen S.

    What “it seems to me” Jesus Demands Of The World

    • Yes Carmen, but somehow I don’t think Piper proposed that title to his publishers.

  11. thepersistentwidow

    I think that Piper’s teaching can only appeal to two types of people: those who don’t understand it or legalistic hypocrites. Pertaining to the latter, most of the sins that Piper says we must forsake are generally unobservable. A hypocrite could have many private sins and put himself in the position of making unjust judgments against God’s people.

    Since Piper has invented the category of ‘marital sin’ an abuse victim cannot possibly get out of an abusive marriage without a public spectacle. By the time the church gets involved, and then the state, everyone will know that this ‘sin’ was committed giving the Piper-trained hypocrites a target to shoot their distain at. And this they do. Meanwhile they can harbor their sins of the heart in secret.

    No wonder a domestic abuse ministry blog is one of the few places that Piper’s errors are being discussed.

    BTW a good title for this book would be “What Piper Demands From the World”.

  12. I love this blog series SO MUCH!!
    The cow analogy! LOVE… I have a fondness for devastating analogies 😛
    Piper — he is tricksy. I’ll give him that. I can’t wait to read the next installment!

  13. Cindy K

    I was just asked this past weekend to write a book on this subject, and I’m so glad that I don’t have to do it! I can’t stand to read/listen to Piper and some of his other buddies for more than a few minutes…on any subject. What little I have heard at the request of others just drips with error.

    • Jeff Crippen

      CindyK – I know what you mean. I need to read a bit more in his Future Grace as I promised another article or two for the blog here, but I am having great difficulty making myself pick the book up again. The error, the legalism, the intentional ambiguity – I still cannot understand why so many people think he is wonderful.

      • joepote01

        I’ve pretty much decided not to read any more of this book…at least not right now.

        The intentional ambiguity is, for me, the worst part. As a general rule, when I’m reading a book with a new perspective being introduced, I feel compelled to at least attempt to understand the perspective, whether or not I agree with it. Piper seems to not want the reader to understand…which leaves me feeling both frustrated and extremely wary.

        It’s truly exhausting!

      • Jeff Crippen

        I agree Joe. I don’t think he wants people to cognitively understand. I think his primary message is more of a non-cognitive feeling of a supposed “holiness” like you are tempted to feel when you walk into some ornate cathedral. It is a mystical, ascetic, monasticism. It appeals to our sinful flesh and parades as saintliness. It isn’t.

      • Yeah. I don’t think I ever got past page 40.

  14. Carmen S.

    In rhetoric, loaded language is wording that attempts to influence an audience using appeal to emotion or stereotypes. Such wording is also known as high-inference language or language persuasive techniques. Emotive arguments and loaded language are particularly persuasive because they exploit the human weakness for acting immediately based upon an emotional response, without such further considered judgment.

    John Piper has many male followers, does he not? The “biblical” gender roles promoted by Piper and his friends inform us that women need male leadership because,
    ever since Eve, women are easily deceived by their emotions. Yet, Pipers’ flowery verbosity seems to deceive both male and female.

    The antisocial maverick “House M.D.” doctor who specialized in diagnostic medicine did whatever it took to solve puzzling cases. Piper isn’t very puzzling when you realize what his main goal is: listen to him and do not question what you have heard. If you question, you will be called thought stopping names, told you are in rebellion to God,etc. The “New Calvinists” constantly tell women to not emasculate men, and they obsess about their manhood. There’s a serious problem with this “movement”, and to demand we agree they have the answer that will save families and America is pure ego.

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